Indie Across the Pond Untangling: Garthenor Organic

A label with teal print.

This is the third in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Across the Pond, taking place from March 19-21, 2021.

I featured Garthenor Organic on the blog last year prior to Indie Untangled Everywhere in October. I’m excited that this British yarn company has decided to return for our first international fiber event! I spoke with Jonny King to learn even more about his and his mom Sally’s commitment to organic, British wool.

What did the process of organic certification entail?

It’s quite a lengthy process! For an organic farm like ours, there is a minimum of two years of transition, which lets the livestock and land adapt gradually to a new way of farming. For the yarn production, it’s usually a little quicker, thankfully. There are a few key areas that come under the scope of a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certification, namely chemical inputs (like dyes and detergents), traceability, working conditions and environmental standards. For each of these, we need to be able to show complete transparency during our annual inspection and occasional unannounced spot inspections, so it’s pretty in-depth. I definitely don’t think we’d be able to keep it up if we didn’t truly believe in the process.

Yarn being milled.

How has your company evolved over 20-plus years?

This is an odd one for me, as I’ve grown up alongside the company – Mum (Sally) often jokes that she brought me up to join in with making yarn! We started with spinning yarn from wool only from our own flock, but we’re now working with 50-60 organic farms around the UK to grow this amazing fibre. As you can imagine, this also means a lot more yarn being made too! We’re still a tiny company though, with just the two of us working full time, and I think that means we can keep that raw connection to the way our yarns are made – without any compromise at all.

A black and white image of a man holding a dark lamb.

A woman leaning on a cane wearing a dark coat and knitted hat.

Are you still facing challenges due to the pandemic? What about Brexit?

Definitely! I think like just about every industry, we’ve had a few setbacks over the last year or so. Not having in-person shows has been so heartbreaking, as this is really where we get to connect with friends and customers, and we really get to tell the story of the fibre. We work with a few small mills here in the UK, and they’ve all faced closures and reduced staffing, so it’s been trickier than ever to keep up with demand!

Shipping has been a challenge, but I’m glad to say this is looking a little more stable now – we’re dispatching orders every day all across the world, and the postal services are doing an amazing job to get all the yarny parcels delivered as quickly as possible.

A sheepdog among a pile of brown and white fleece.

Tell me more about the rare breed that you debuted at Indie Untangled Everywhere last year?

One of our favourite things when introducing a new or single-release yarn is to introduce makers to a fibre they may have never discovered before. For Indie Untangled Everywhere, it was a blend of Manx Loaghtan and Hampshire Down, two gorgeous British breeds, woollen spun into a super soft and squishy yarn. Partnering this one was the pure Manx Loaghtan, and a marl of the two shades (we always love a good marl here!). The flock that grows the Manx Loaghtan fleece was one of our first supplier farms, and it’s that genuine connection the story of the fibre that makes us so proud to do what we do.

Like all our fibre, it was hand sorted by Sally – her experience and knowledge in working with fibre for years is really what sets each yarn apart. She has a knack to understanding how the fibre will be behave, and it guides us to make wool that reflects the landscape, the sheep and the story that surrounds us every day.

A skein of cream-colored yarn that says Dartmoor.

What new products will you be showing at Indie Across the Pond?

We’re going to be re-introducing a special edition version of our newest base, Snowdonia Sock. Spun from pure rare-breed Greyface Dartmoor wool, the texture is so unique and special, and captures what I mentioned about reflecting our landscape. We worked with a farm in Cornwall to source the fibre, and it was spun just a few miles down the road from where it grew. We only spun a very small batch, so it’s definitely not one to miss!

Indie Untangled Everywhere Untangling: Garthenor Organic

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A son and mother.

Jonny King and his mom, Sally, of Garthenor.

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.

I first heard of Garthenor Organic and their sheep-y, organic British wool yarn when I attended the Edinburgh Yarn Festival a few years ago. I was excited when they applied to vend at this year’s Rhinebeck Trunk Show (now Indie Untangled Everywhere). Although they won’t be crossing the pond to join us, I’m happy to introduce them to you virtually.

Tell me the story of how Garthenor Organic came to be.

We’d farmed sheep here at Garthenor for a few years, and in 1999 our first batch was sent to a mill that was just five miles down the road. That first batch was simply that Mum wanted some yarn from the sheep! She sold it at local farmers markets, and at the time there was a real drought of proper wool yarns, so it was a bit of an instant hit. Within a couple of years, we were working with a handful of organic farms to source some other breeds and we really just grew from there!

White yarn.

Garthenor Preseli Basalt

Why did you decide to focus on organic products?

Ever since we’ve lived at Garthenor, the farm has been managed to organic principles. We got our certification in the late 1990s, and it felt like the right approach for making yarn too. We worked closely with the local mill to develop the first ever organic standards for wool, so as a result we actually produced the first certified organic wool yarns in the world! More than any certification, it really feels like the right way to do what we do, by treading lightly on the planet and using amazing, renewable fibre from high welfare flocks.

A man holds a black lamb.

Where is your fiber sourced from?

We work directly with farmers to source all the wool, rather than going through brokers. Each of the farms is based in the UK, with the exception of the fleece we get from a single flock on the Falkland Islands – that’s the only wool I don’t collect myself! By sourcing the wool like this, we have a real connection to the flocks that grow it, and we can also be confident of it’s origin, and that animal welfare standards are being met. All of the wool from our own flock also gets spun, though that’s a fairly small percentage overall!

How much yarn does your company produce each year?

Not enough! Last year we spun around 10-12,000kg, and this year we were hoping for more, but mill closures have put us a bit behind. We’re really conscious that this gorgeous fibre is a finite resource each year, so we’re focusing on making amazing yarn that has a story.

A brown, black and white lamb.

A Shetland lamb.

How big is the team at Garthenor and is everyone a crafter?

Just two of us! I think people are often surprised, but it’s just me and Mum. It gets pretty hectic, especially when lambing and yarn shows are in full swing! I’m quite a novice knitter, but Mum is the expert.

Can you talk about some of the business challenges you’ve had to overcome during the pandemic?

Day to day, we’ve managed to cope fairly well. Being on an upland farm in West Wales has meant that isolation is something we’re fairly used to! We’d normally have expected to be exhibiting at a dozen or so yarn shows, and we’re really missing the community aspect of seeing all our friends there. The two mills that spin most of our yarn also closed for a while during lockdown, so there have been some delays behind the scenes.

Orange yarn.

Garthenor Preseli Sunset.

Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?

We have a couple of colourways that’ll be launched for Indie Untangled Everywhere, which I’m super excited about. One, in particular is a beautiful rare breed that we haven’t had for ages.

What are some of your favorite FOs you or your customers have made with your yarn?

I really love them all – it’s such a wonderful feeling to see that yarn that we’ve worked so hard to make being loved enough to turn into a FO! I always lean towards the undyed shades myself, and seeing some gorgeous neutral colourwork always warms my heart.